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It's Women's History Month -- someone should tell the Capitol's statue collection

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(Un)Named Woman by Sydney Shea
(Un)Named Woman by Sydney Shea, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.
Courtesy of Sydney Shea

New York City's Central Park will get its first statue of a real-life woman in 2020. In fact, it will get two — of women's suffrage advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

The plan comes after a revelation last summer that there are just five statues honoring actual women in all of New York City, compared with 145 monuments to male historical figures. 

(Un)Named Woman by Sydney Shea
(Un)Named Woman by Sydney Shea, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota.
Courtesy of Sydney Shea

Sydney Shea, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota's School of Design, noticed a similar gender gap on the grounds of the State Capitol. She and her faculty advisor, Rebecca Krinke, hope to spark a conversation like the one taking place in New York in the Twin Cities.

"The women that you do find depicted [at the Capitol], they're allegories. They stand in for ideas such as truth, bounty or agriculture. Or they're just simply there as placeholders," Shea told MPR host Tom Crann. "So, you see women who are dressed in Grecian robes or are oftentimes undressed, and they're standing there as simply a female body in a larger statue or monument."

Shea surveyed the grounds of the Capitol in the fall and  found 20 stand-alone statues and busts of men. She found just two plaques honoring real-life women: suffragists Clara Ueland and Dr. Martha Ripley. All of the other representations of women she found signified feminine or moral ideals, Shea said.

"The issue is not that women are being used to represent ideas, but that these are the only places we're seeing representation of women," Shea said. "Only about 4 percent of statues in the U.S. are of named, historical women."

Shea points out that the popularity of statues dropped at the same time women's equality grew. Still, she and Krinke hope to draw attention to the issue with an installation at the Capitol later this year, though no firm plans are in place.